How the Northwestern State men’s basketball team responds to a couple of different scenarios may well determine their fate as they finally start the second half of Southland Conference play.
As the Demons prepare to play at Incarnate Word at 7 p.m. Wednesday, those situations include coming back from a 10-day break and handling a Cardinals offense that is unlike any other in the league.
The game can be heard on 95.9 FM and the Demon Sports Network. Free streaming audio is available on www.NSUDemons.com and through the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded free through the Apple Store or Google Play.
Northwestern State (5-14, 4-4) has not played since defeating Central Arkansas, 81-77, on Jan. 30 in Conway, Arkansas. The Demons were not scheduled to play Feb. 3 and then saw their Feb. 6 matchup with Houston Baptist postponed until Feb. 22 because of COVID-19 concerns.
The 11-day break between games is the longest for the Demons this season.
“The bad thing is we had a little momentum going and were playing some good basketball,” said head coach Mike McConathy, whose team is on a three-game win streak. “Does it translate into picking up where you left off is the question everybody always has.
“We took a different approach – practice, off a day, practice, off a day – trying to make sure we gave our guys enough rest, but at the same time not losing continuity or timing.”
What could help the Demons on both ends is having already faced UIW (8-8, 5-4) once this season. The Cardinals grabbed a 75-67 win in Prather Coliseum on Jan. 6 in the first round of conference play.
Because of the postponement of the matchup with HBU, UIW becomes the first repeat Southland Conference opponent for the Demons this season.
Much like the Demons, the Cardinals played some of their best basketball near the midpoint of conference play, winning back-to-back road games at Lamar (67-58) and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (58-53) this past week.
UIW sophomore guard Keaston Willis was named the Southland Conference Player of the Week for his performances in those games. Willis’ award comes one week after NSU junior guard Trenton Massner took home the honor for his play in the Demons’ wins against New Orleans and Central Arkansas.
Willis’ 19.4 points per game average ranks second in the Southland Conference and leads the Cardinals, who employ a deliberate style of offense.
“They’re just so well-coached and so well-disciplined,” McConathy said. “The last few teams haven’t scored over 60 points against them. They execute, execute, execute. It keeps your possessions down. They have a different scheme or style than anyone else in the league. They run great flare screens and tons of ball screens. They’ll set 200 screens in the game Wednesday night.
“How do we respond to them? How do we trap them? How do we tag up off them and rotate? How do we cover shooters? How do we not take a fake? Every one of their guys is remarkable at catching the ball and giving you a head-and-shoulders fake to drive by you or draw a foul.”
Although the Cardinals took the first meeting of the season, the Demons can draw on what helped propel them on an upward trajectory in the league standings – winning road games.
NSU is 3-2 on the road in conference play, leaving them one victory shy of clinching at least a breakeven mark away from Natchitoches in league action.
“We stayed on the road in some unfriendly confines (in non-conference play),” McConathy said. “We developed a pretty good pattern and blueprint on how to prepare for each individual game, some of which were on short turnarounds. It really helped our young men to understand how important it is to lock in on the scout and how important it is to be prepared for the upcoming opponent.”